young-innovatorsThe Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) is launching its 2022 Express accelerator program for entry startup companies in Accra, Ghana. Many young innovators are participating in this program. MEST’s mission is to “focus on empowering startups in Ghana that are providing solutions that use technology to drive transformational change to create a more sustainable future for all.” Sustainable social impact is a pillar of the incubator’s goals. Furthermore, the professional development of women entrepreneurs will receive priority for the upcoming cohort.

Accra is rapidly becoming one of the leading tech hubs in the world. As a center for innovation, talent from around West Africa are starting companies in Ghana. Rising regional innovators will soon arrive at MEST’s offices to fine-tune their projects into successful enterprises.

The Impact

The 20-week accelerator program began on July 28, 2022. Each startup receives $5,000 at the start of the program to develop its projects. Then, top-performing participants obtain $20,000 in equity-free funding for further business growth. Young innovators in Accra are getting the capital they need to build their emerging companies.

Along with funding, MEST supports entrepreneurs through mentorship and networking. The incubator’s team of experienced consultants gives a new perspective to growth stage projects. Sector experts help participants develop marketing strategies and identify target audiences. Furthermore, the MEST Express accelerator program connects young innovators in Accra with a transnational entrepreneurial community and investors.

Finally, the MEST curriculum develops business soft skills. The model prepares entrepreneurs for the professional world through leadership, communication, critical thinking and team-building development. Each startup must present its project at the end of the program. Program alumni gain valuable experience for future opportunities in the field. MEST is producing the next generation of young innovators in Accra.

Bottom-up investment is impactful on a local level and benefits macro-economic health. Startup entrepreneurs tend to be more in touch with community issues. Innovators’ products often reflect the environments they grow up in. It is essential to finance local entrepreneurs with the lived experience to properly address societal issues. MEST’s focus on social impact is funding community-driven transformation.

Through the MEST Express accelerator program, participants are empowered to become change-makers. The funding provides opportunities and creates new wealth for young innovators in Accra. MESTS’s bottom-up investment strategy encourages a thriving middle-class in Ghana and supports domestic, as well as global economic expansion.

Startup Highlight

Codetrain is one of MEST’s many successful alumni companies. The group provides training, guidance and professional opportunities to young coders in Ghana. The company develops students with little experience into world-class software programmers and sets them up to succeed with local and international tech companies.

The program trained more than 500 students in Accra and Kumasi since it opened in 2017. Roughly 90% of these coders found employment after graduating from Codetrain. Business accelerators expand the impact and economic growth exponentially.

Future of Innovation in Ghana

While Ghana is developing into a regional tech startup powerhouse, there are still challenges facing entrepreneurs in West Africa. It is crucial that opportunities for entrepreneurial development are extended to young innovators outside of urban centers. Greater investment in Ghanian incubator infrastructure is necessary to reach talent throughout the country.

Accelerators such as MEST generate global innovation, address social issues with sustainable solutions and maintain economic health. Identifying productive business incubators and funding the expansion of these initiatives should be foundational to the United States’ foreign strategy.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic is stunting the growth of start-ups in West Africa. Combating global vaccine inequality must be a policy priority to save lives and encourage economic growth.

MEST is gathering the top young innovators in Accra for the 2022 Express accelerator program. Social impact and gender equity in the tech sector are priorities for the initiative. Startups will receive funding to advance projects. Furthermore, participants will gain valuable soft skills, professional insight and networking opportunities.

While Ghana is becoming a rising hub for entrepreneurial activity, there are still roadblocks facing young innovators. Talent in rural areas is lost due to the limited reach of opportunity. Funding is needed to expand the business incubator infrastructure throughout Ghana. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disturb economic growth in West Africa. Global health care equity and investment in bottom-up strategies should be central to Washington’s foreign policy.

Despite these barriers, the future of Ghana’s tech sector is exciting. Many successful companies rose through MEST’s accelerator initiative. This year’s Express program in Accra is developing the next generation of entrepreneurs.

– Samson Heyer
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Online businesses in GhanaPreviously, issues such as limited internet and bank access and informal home addresses made digital selling challenging for Ghanaian companies. However, advancement in these areas has allowed online businesses to grow, creating jobs in Ghana. Many college graduates in Ghana have started digital companies selling a wide range of products, including bags, footwear, clothes, grocery items, electronic goods and advanced cellular devices, among others. Some start companies also offer services such as repairing, cosmetics, interior decorating and photoshoots digitally. The growth of such companies has enabled them to offer many different types of employment to a greater population in Ghana.

Job Creation

From consumer services to promotions, financing to administrative tasks, retail managing to image consulting, online selling has many job opportunities to offer in Ghana, which had a 4.5% employment rate in 2020. For example, while the digital firm Jumia employs only around 500 people directly in online work, it employs more than 10,000 people indirectly. Online work does not always require people to have advanced technological abilities, only a willingness to learn. Online businesses also create associated non-online jobs.

For example, when people purchase meals and other items digitally, they require delivery. Nowadays, many companies offer delivery by motorcycle or van, creating many delivery jobs. Online businesses in Ghana also provide new jobs through collection posts, which have become more popular during the pandemic. These posts provide a safe and convenient way for customers to collect their goods while minimizing their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Collection posts hire post managers, shipment organizers and receptionists. In addition, some companies, such as Jumia, have encouraged digital businesses to expand by allowing people to collect their online purchases in-store.

Working from Home and New Digitial Stores

Many online businesses offer home-based and other off-site positions. Working from home not only enhances employees’ welfare and decreases stress, but it also helps reduce pollution as fewer people have to travel to work. Virtual connections allow people to associate with a worldwide community and conveniently work and buy what they need without having to travel. Additionally, digital companies can more easily provide short-term work such as contract, part-time and freelance work, which also helps to reduce poverty.

Moreover, in May 2018, a digital food store named Homeshoppa Ghana was introduced in Accra, the country’s capital. Homeshoppa Ghana matches its competitors’ prices in order to provide easily accessible, low-cost, standard groceries to every citizen. Access to stores like Homeshoppa Ghana allows people living in poverty to buy essential items at low prices.

Internet Advancements

The introduction of higher internet speeds and advanced cellphones in Ghana has helped prepare the marketplace for online retailers. By the end of 2017, 10.1 million Ghanaians, or 34%, were using the internet. As of January this year, the number of internet users had increased to 15.7 million. As more people begin to use the internet, online businesses are creating more new jobs in Ghana.

Jannique McDonald
Photo: Unsplash

The Effects of Fast Fashion in West AfricaIn Accra, Ghana, landfills of rotting garments flood dumpsites. The place is overwhelmed with the results of fast fashion that no longer serves a purpose—but to take up space. In 2018, the United Kingdom’s interest in fast fashion has resulted in as many as 300,000 tons of clothing to be sent to landfills. This has resulted in the Kpone landfill being one of the main targets for the landfills in Accra. With the capacity of the landfills being quickly met, sanitation risks come into play. Residents of places like Kpone are now dealing with the blow of disease and solutions are needed to address the effects of fast fashion in West Africa.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is the creation of quickly made cheap clothes that aim to fit the ever-changing trend of fashion. These clothes are likely to be advertised on Instagram and by retailers, such as Zara, BooHoo or ASOS. A majority of its operations are online and due to the popularity, 24% of all U.K. apparel sales were online in 2018. The continuous growth of the fashion industry has resulted in an expansion of landfills being filled with tossed clothing that no longer fit the trend. According to studies, the U.K. sends 10,000 items of clothing to landfills every five minutes, with places like Accra being overflooded.

The Kpone Landfill

In 2013, Accra’s most prominent landfill in Kpone opened. It served the purpose of receiving 700 tons of waste daily. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), the local government, has also allocated the pick up of 70 tonnes of clothing waste from Kantamanto, Accra, daily.

This process began in 2016 and four years later Kpone is now overflowing with waste. However, despite Kpone receiving Kantamanto’s clothing waste, most of it does not reach the landfills and instead gets swept into gutters due to AMA’s inability to finance transportation for the waste.

Risks of Fast Fashion

Clothing waste tends to get tangled up in big knots that clutter up gutters and stop the flow of water and waste. These tangled messes lead to life-threatening floods and the spread of diseases such as malaria and cholera, which are especially devastating to the poor. The waste is leading to fatalities.

Kayayei, female transporters for waste, live near landfills in Old Fadama, Accra. These women breathe in the toxic air and carry up to 200 pounds of clothing to transport to retailers. It is not uncommon for these women to die by the weight they carry while on their travels, which could be up to a mile long. The sad reality of this is that women are risking their lives for less than a dollar to transport waste.

Efforts Being Made to Address Fast Fashion in West Africa

As of 2020, 7,800 men and women have worked toward the goal of collecting and recycling the waste in Kpone. These waste pickers are paid for their efforts and the work serves as a key survival tactic for those struggling to find employment. Approximately, 60% of recyclable waste has been collected by these workers.

However, despite the workers’ efforts being beneficial they are often looked down upon and are regularly met with harassment. Also, poor sanitation from the landfills put waste pickers at risk for health hazards. Yet, mobilizations among these workers have become common in recent times. International waste pickers associations have worked to have the local government in Kpone establish health posts near landfills and enforce sanitation rights.

The Future of Fast Fashion

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought fast fashion to a halt. Christian Orozco, an associate of The OR Foundation, is optimistic about the future of fast fashion amid the pandemic. “The coronavirus has forced retailers that support fast fashion to close down their stores. This creates a big impact on the distribution of clothes and can slow it down,” explains Orozco.

Fewer people are purchasing clothing online due to the question of when they will be able to wear them out. Places like H&M, a huge retailer for fast fashion, have also been affected by COVID-19, leading to the closing of 250 stores worldwide. Additionally, clothing sales altogether have dropped by 34%, bringing forth the question of how the future of fast fashion will impact regions like West Africa.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

Ghana is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa that has met the Millennium Development Goal of reducing extreme poverty in half by 2015, and it is also among the most developed countries in the region.

According to the World Bank Group, 24.3 percent of Ghana’s population is living below the poverty line, down from 31.9 percent in 2005. Even with substantial developments, there still remain certain challenges that hinder progress in Ghana. Similar to many nations in the developing world, poverty in Ghana is largely due to social and economic inequalities among its citizens. Ghana’s economic growth has also slowed down significantly over the past few years, affecting many cities across the region including the capital of Accra. According to the World Bank Group, the gross domestic product (GDP) declined from 7.3 percent in 2013 to an estimated 4.2 percent in 2014. The slowed growth was a result of inflation and a fall in currency, which has also impacted many areas in the region such as Accra.

Accra, the capital of Ghana, is considered one of the largest cities in the country. The country has an estimated population of more than 2 million people and holds approximately 10 percent of Ghana’s entire population. Although Ghana’s economic progress has slowed down, its capital is still a leading force in the nation. For example, Accra has among the lowest poverty rates in the country when compared to other cities in the region.

The city serves as the focal point for the region’s economic development, with the service industry employing over 530,000 people. However, the city also has a high unemployment rate with approximately 12.2 percent of the population, amounting to 114,198 people, reportedly unemployed. This is a contributing factor to Ghana’s urban poverty. The population dwelling within the city relies heavily on employment and income, both of which are critical sources for sufficient livelihoods. In turn, high food prices and income inequalities further impact urban poverty in Accra.

Apart from city dwellers, poverty permeates a significant amount of rural areas in Accra. There are 79 communities within Accra including Ga Mashie, James Town, Chorkor and Nima, identified as three of the most high poverty communities in the region. The indigenous populations found throughout Accra are some of the most vulnerable. For example, communities in areas like Ga, which had initially derived its livelihood from farming and fishing, are now considered to be among the poorest in the region. Additionally, households headed by women within these communities experience significantly higher poverty rates.

The reason why Accra still has a large percentage of the population living below the poverty line is partly due to the lack of information provided about these communities. It is difficult to focus on an area with need when not enough information or knowledge is being conveyed; as a result, progress in the area has been hindered.

Even with all the challenges Ghana has been facing, it is still one of the most developed countries in the region. Urban and rural poverty resulting from social and political inequalities are reason enough for concern, even as Accra remains one of the more stable and developed cities in the region. With a more focused post-2015 development framework that addresses the social and economic inequalities in Ghana, the region can continue progressing.

– Nada Sewidan

Sources: World Bank, IPA, UNICEF, Action 2015
Photo: Two Years in Ghana

When you were little, you may have wondered where the souls of your deceased pets went, but have you ever wondered where defunct or discarded electronics go? After all, they have to be disposed somewhere. In the Ghanaian capital Accra is the Pearly Gate—or perhaps more appropriately the limbo—of the electronic dead.

Agbogbloshie (altogether now, come on: uh-g-bog-blo-shee), a suburb of the capital, is the world’s largest e-dumpsite. Here, many scrap dealers—mainly economic migrants from the poorest parts of Ghana—are busy toiling their days away dismantling non-figurative tons and tons of gadget remains. When their day at work is over, they return to nearby shantytown called Old Fadama whose sobriquet is—and I kid you not—“Sodom and Gomorrah.”

There are around 80,000 residents in this shantytown of around 3, 000 square feet. In order to retrieve metals and other sellable materials, children and young adults smash and burn these toxic. Operating without any safety equipment, most workers laboring in this horrendous condition die from cancer within their 20s. For many who work on the dumpsite, if they were to get injured or ill, medical care would be beyond their means, translating to s shortened life expectancy.

As for the living condition in “Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is the country’s biggest slum, they are appallingly precarious. Aside from being located adjacently to the world’s biggest e-dumpsite, the community also lacks basic sanitation such as running water, waste collection, and medical care. It is also estimated that around 49% of the inhabitants of this slum do not have any education at all.

Furthermore, due to the infamy brought with extreme impoverished, the district and its inhabitants are highly stigmatized in the Ghanaian society. Perhaps due to this attitude, this poisonous shantytown has long suffered negligence from the society at large. Despite the fact that there is pressure to relocate its inhabitants, an endeavor for which the Ghanaian government has allocated almost $13 million (in USD), this effort has been met with strong resistance from its targets. It is evident that the dwellers view the government’s effort as forced eviction rather than an attempt to improve their living standard.

The case of Old Fadama is not the only instance of extreme poverty and destitution in Accra. The People’s Dialogue on Human Settlement estimates that around 80% of the city’s residents live in slums—though with varying degrees of material inadequacy.

The situation in Agbogbloshie also raises the question of the responsibility that consumers all over the world must take with regard to their electronic consumption. Even though dumping their broken or unfashionable apparatuses in Ghana may provide the residents of Old Fadama with paltry incomes, their health and wellbeing are greatly compromised.

Where then should these electronic devices be disposed? By whom? And, perhaps, the most important questions of all in the cosmos of consumerism—what will be the cost and who will pay for it?

Peewara Sapsuwan

Photo: Trade 2 Save
Think Africa PressThink Africa Press, The Guardian, Ghana, GhanaWeb

one-direction-is-helping-comic-relief-organizationThe band One Direction includes five boys: Niall Horan, Harry Styles, Zayn Malik, Louie Tomlinson, and Liam Payne. They recently visited some of the poorer areas of Accra, Ghana as part of Red Nose Day.

One Direction is helping an organization called Comic Relief by giving the proceeds of their upcoming single, “One Way or Another,” to the charity. This single was made as part of the Red Nose Day project, which often gives proceeds to the area of Ghana that the boys visited. Comic Relief is an organization that aims to eliminate poverty worldwide through the form of entertainment.

They have two main campaigns: Red Nose Day and Sport Relief. Sport Relief is a program that involves thousands of people to run a certain number of miles while raising money at the same time through sponsorship. There are also a few other scattered sports-related events to raise money throughout the year. The other campaign, Red Nose Day, is the project that One Direction has chosen to involve themselves in.

The band is helping Comic Relief by following the basic idea of this program: to raise money while enjoying themselves; in this case, through music. Also, One Direction is helping the Comic Relief  Organization by visiting Ghana. When they visited Ghana as part of their video, they encountered the lifestyles of those living in impoverished areas. The boys in One Direction have said their experience in Ghana was life-changing and moving. During the trip, some of the boys were brought to tears by the school they visited, and the children attending it.

Harry Styles commented, “If you get involved in it and you don’t cry, you’re superhuman.” Overall, the boys want to have a positive impact on as many peoples’ lives as possible. To see the band being interviewed on the subject, click here.

– Corina Balsamo

Sources: Comic Relief, One Direction Music, Belfast Telegraph